Updated: Jun 1
So this blog post isn't specifically about video production or photography, but it is definitely still relevant to probably the majority of people reading this blog. Any small-medium business owner understands the pain of business admin. From travel, to business equipment and a constant stream of expenses, to taxes and VAT, there's a lot of paperwork to keep on top of. Sure, working freelance or running a company comes with many benefits if you enjoy that way of working, but there are also a lot of responsibilities when it comes to organising your expenses, taxes, etc. We all know it's coming, yet somehow, some of us still manage to get to December in a blind panic as the reality of HMRC deadlines begins to set in, and the thought of collating the past year's worth of expenses fills you with dread.
To add to this, we recently became VAT registered, and if there’s anything that’s taught us to be more on top of business admin… it was VAT registration. Enough is enough.
As a side-note, it is probably fair to say that for most startup businesses, your first priority in the beginning is never accounting or paperwork. It’s getting your ideas off the ground, establishing a team, pitching to and gaining new clients, and making sure your service or product is the best it could possibly be. Receipts and invoices tend to get left by the wayside. But then you register for VAT, and the reality kicks in that you need the last 4 years’ worth of receipts if you want to be able to claim back the VAT you've paid over that time period.
And that’s where we hit a brick wall, big time.
Anyone Else Hate e-Receipts & Email Confirmations?...
How many companies send you electronic receipts for your orders and expenses? How many don’t even bother to attach PDF invoices to their emails? Yeah, we’ve had enough of it too. I'd estimate that the best part of 3 months were spent combing through thousands of emails, logging into subscription platforms and admin portals, tracking down e-receipts or online invoices, and going through wallets + drawers stuffed with receipts. When you’re putting 110% of your energy into your clients’ projects, these things tend to take a backseat. But you eventually reach a point where you need a system in place, and it would be fair to say that we’ve learnt from our mistake: moving forwards, we need a rock-solid solution for organising all of our e-receipts and digital invoices, and the solution we've been developing is based on an incredible online platform called PDF.co and their Zapier integration. Let me explain.
Our Existing e-Receipt Workflow
Up until now, our expense workflow looked something like this: Screenshots of emails, print to, save as, rename, add in the date, oops - wrong date format, save to the right location, cross-reference with finance trackers or your accounts…. That’s a lot of steps, for every. single. purchase. But what if there was a smarter way of automating all of this manual work?
That’s exactly what we’ve set out to achieve over the past few days, and while we’ve only just got PDF.co & Zapier up and running, I can confirm that this is going to save us days if not weeks worth of manual admin work every year.
How does it work, you ask? Let me show you. That convoluted system of manually converting and organising every single email you receive with an order confirmation or an invoice summary? This is our new reality:
Impressed? Yeah, so were we. That email is a plain text / HTML email, with no PDF invoice attached to it. PDF.co takes the HTML from the email, converts it into a PDF file, and with the help of Zapier, saves the file to a Google Drive folder of my choosing. It's literally that simple. Full disclosure, the above GIF is sped up for maximum effect; in reality, the process takes a maximum of 15 minutes to happen, since the basic Zapier plans only 'refresh' every 15 minutes. The higher-end plans have closer to 'real time' refresh, but you pay for it.
We've spent the past 3 months configuring a new online accounting platform, which works great for our project time tracking, invoicing, estimates, bank feeds etc, helping to reduce some of the manual workload when it comes to our accounts - but there was still one huge manual element tied to this: keeping track of and uploading receipts. With this new process, we can set up 'rules' or 'filters' in Gmail to automatically add incoming emails to this 'label', depending on who the email is from, or what text is included in the subject or the body. For example, all of our e-receipts for NCP ParkPass contain 'Your NCP ParkPass payment has been successful' as the subject line. By configuring a filter in Gmail, all emails with this subject, from NCP, will be automatically given this 'label' in Gmail, thus triggering the Zap to generate a PDF of the email, via PDF.co, and upload it to our Google Drive Expenses folder.
This is just one of tens of suppliers that we regularly receive expense receipts for, which we can easily set up inbox filters or rules for, and then forget about. And of course, you can drag and drop emails over to the label for those one-off receipts or invoices you receive which you haven't configured rules for. We're excited to keep tinkering and tweaking this setup, but I have a feeling this new process is going to make tax-deadline time a little bit less stressful this year!
Interested in Trying PDF.co Yourself?
If you're interested in doing something similar, PDF.co links to your Zapier account through an API, which is incredibly easy to do with the walk-through tutorial. Once your accounts are linked, you can add PDF.co as an "action" in Zapier. The rest is pretty self-explanatory.
PDF.co is the third step in this Zap, after the initial 'trigger' and a 'formatter' to re-work the format of the date which Gmail pulls in for us. This step is necessary for us to end up with a suitable naming convention later on in the Zap.
You can then rename the file to follow a naming convention that makes sense for you, during the 'upload file in Google Drive' step, which is the 4th and final step in the Zap.
So now at the end of each month, all we need to do is just drag and drop all of these PDFs into our accounting software, which automatically pulls in all our credit card transactions; and hey presto, we've got rock solid records of all our receipts tied to every payment.
*Full disclosure: this blog post is not sponsored, however, we do genuinely think this is a great platform, and what we've outlined here is only scratching the surface of what this tool can do.